Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jan Brewer and AZ State Legislature Fall Short On Promises To Abused And Neglected Kids

Jan Brewer (by Gage Skidmore)

As skeptics predicted, Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer has once again failed to provide the protection that the state's abused and neglected kids need. She asked the state legislature to approve $80 million in the new budget for a child welfare program -- the one formerly known as Child Protective Services (CPS). The Republican-dominated body gave her $52.7 million before sending the final budget to her office on Tuesday for a signature.

In January, Brewer took the questionable step of dissolving CPS by executive order, announcing the move during her State of the State address. She declared the creation of a cabinet-level, free-standing agency that would report only to her instead. This was in response to the discovery last fall that over 6,500 CPS cases had been totally set aside, without the slightest degree of investigation.

The new program, the Child Safety and Family Services Agency, was to evolve out of a team Brewer put into place in December to investigate the 6,500 untouched cases. The only problem is, creating a new agency and funding it are legislative responsibilities. So, without an agency actually in place, the best the budget bill does is make sort of a promise about the future:
" ... this budget has been adopted without knowing the scope, department needs and funding requirements for the successor agency that are necessary to protect the safety of the children in this state. It is the intent of the legislature to reexamine the budget in conjunction with the legislation that will create a successor agency ..."
Um, ok. 'Intent'. The governor, however, already laid out specifics of what she believes is needed for the agency. She wanted $25 million to create it; the legislature gave her $20 million. She asked for $40 million over the next three years to create a new child-safety database; they gave her $15 million over the next three years. She proposed over $20 million to hire new child protection workers; the budget includes $15.3 million. She also wanted $8.6 million for more criminal-case investigators; she got $1.8 million.

The legislature has never taken child welfare to heart. Why Brewer believed she could singlehandedly create an agency and then get adequate funding from these people is a mystery. And now, any further funding will require lawmakers to return for a special session.

Here's what has actually happened since Brewer dissolved CPS. Each of the 6500 neglected cases was assigned a caseworker and most have been investigated. Great. However, the latest figures on the backlog of child protection cases (cases intended for further action that no one has gotten to yet) showed that, in January, even though the workers for the former CPS were still on the job, the backlog stood at 12,101. That's a 19 percent increase since the discovery last November of the ignored 6500 cases (for which there was no intent).

In a formal statement, Democratic leaders protested the budget. Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford and Representative Eric Meyer wrote:
"There is no justifiable reason to wait until the Legislature convenes a special session (to address the new Department of Child Safety and Family Services) to fund these staffing positions. The Governor's Office provided sound recommendations for staffing and funding levels which are disregarded in this budget. Staffing shortages have, in part, contributed to a legacy of tragic mismanagement of our child welfare program and have put the safety of Arizona's children in jeopardy for far too long."
Even Republican Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, sees danger looming in the current setup, including the level of staffing. According to the Arizona Republic, she said:
"If we start this agency out with a 12,000 (case) backlog, the ship will sink."
So where's the solution? Lame-duck Governor Brewer hasn't even managed to keep pace with the growth in child welfare cases, much less design a new agency. She'll be out of office in less than nine months and someone else, currently unknown, will be the sole person to whom the new Child Safety and Family Services Agency answers.

Where does this leave Arizona's kids? The same place they've always been -- shit out of luck.

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